Ballast Wagon M.78

In the autumn of 1995 the Mainland Area Group of the Supporters’ Association began talks regarding a proposed re-build of one of the railway’s open wagons. At this time there was one sole survivor of the particular class (M.70) which was in a very poor condition and remained extant on the line, having been stored at Santon Station on a siding for a number of years. This particular vehicle was deemed to be too far gone for economic repair and so it was decided to construct a brand new wagon, using the extant version as a guide.

Fundraising began in earnest and by the spring of 1996 it was reported in issue 114 of Manx Steam Railway News that the project had made significant progress to the extent that all the necessary nuts and bolts were already in stock, costing in excess of £1,200 in themselves, having been kindly donated by member Trevor Nall and his company Washford Engineering Limited, many of which had been specially machined by the company for the purpose. Further fasteners had been purchased from existing funds totaling £890.

The timber required was priced at £940 and a quote for construction had been made for £4,000 whilst other quotes were being obtained. By the summer it was reported that progress had been steady, and that four-year air-dried oak would be needed. Key member of the area group Dave Booth had drawn up detailed working drawings of the wagon for use during construction. Raffles and other fundraising initiatives were commenced at this time and appeals were made to the membership for the storage of materials prior to construction, with enquiries being made for the underframe timbers.

As part of the railways’ enthusiasts’ event which was centred around the centenary celebrations of the Groudle Glen Railway, a raffle was drawn by Douglas Stationmaster Dave Heaton (from an old locomotive dome, no less!) and this raffle raised just short of £1,000. By the spring of 1997 construction had commenced, using some component parts of wagon M.78 which had been dismantled some twenty years earlier but the parts retained in the stores. It was for this reason that the finished vehicle would carry this fleet number, rather than the mooted M.79 as a “new” build. Donations continued to mount up, with a donation of £700 being added to the kitty from the Narrow Gauge Trust based in Towyn, Wales. The frames were constructed and draw gear, with brake equipment being the next to be added, as finances permitted.

The rotting remains of M.70 were removed from the old carriage shed at Douglas Station over the Easter period in 1997 and transported by road to Booth W. Kelly of Ramsey Shipyard who secured the construction contract for construction of the frames. Once the bulk of the underframe work had been completed the wagon was moved to Douglas Workshops where the completion of the drop-sides and bulkhead ends were completed by a working party from the mainland during November, who oversaw the fundraising. Alan Frodsham had machined the necessary floor, side and ends of the wagon, which had been purchased at a further cost of £1,000.

The wagon was then painted and fleet numbers applied by Alex McBride of the railways’ full-time staff, with suitable cast plaques being added to the bulkhead ends denoting the wagon’s origin and the support of the Narrow Gauge Trust, and the official handover was made as part of the Steam 125 event in the summer of 1998 marking the anniversary of the first trains on the Peel Line, with minister for tourism David Cretney and railway manager Robert Smith in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The vehicle was attached to the rear of a service train for photographic purposes but owing to the lack of through vacuum braking it sadly could not be hauled on this train. Happily it has since been piped and been included as part of special events in the ensuing years.